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How to efficiently upskill your sales force

Evan Friburg |

In sales, there can be a wide variety of profiles from one company to another, or even within the same company: salesperson in a store, bank advisor, telesales representative… However, the learning challenges are often the same: the company must upskill its sales force as efficiently as possible to improve the performance of each salesperson and, as a consequence, to improve the performance of a store or branch.

1. The onboarding is crucial and sometimes (too) dense

Considering the significant turnover in a sector like Retail (up to 30% for some companies), the onboarding is crucial to ensure a fast and effective upskilling. During the onboarding path, the salesperson follows different learning modules on:

  • The knowledge related to the company and its values – since the salesperson is the face of the company for its clients – and the knowledge related to the company’s products
  • The technical and behavioral skills related to the tools used by the salesperson, customer relationship, negotiation…

This onboarding path can sometimes include a lot of new knowledge and skills to acquire and might represent a long learning time. And a salesperson in training is a salesperson who is not selling: optimizing the onboarding will allow the salesperson to get in the field sooner and apply the right skills in the right way.

To avoid lowering the quality of learning, the optimization of the path must be done through individualization. It is essential to take into account the experience of the salesperson, the jobs he/she had in the past, the learning modules he/she has already followed and the skills he/she has. Adaptive Learning is a relevant tool when you have a large number of salespersons to upskill: it assesses their level at the start of their onboarding to automatically design a tailored learning path, composed of the learning modules that are truly useful for each salesperson.

2. Developing behaviors to ensure the salesperson’s performance

With the high number of existing learning methods today, this tailored path should combine the formats which better suit the profile of the salesperson. Besides, it is essential to leverage learning formats that enhance the long-term retention of knowledge and skills (simulation, serious game, learning by doing…), as once the onboarding is over, the salesperson might have difficulties juggling between work time and learning time.

This means that the upskilling needs to be effective to support salespersons in their onboarding process, but it also needs to maintain its impacts over the long term. For instance, one year after their arrival, the salespersons still have to master the product knowledge assimilated a year before and they must be able to apply the sales skills on a daily basis. Especially as when they are in a sales situation with a client, they do not have time to read a learning material to help them.

The long-term retention of the knowledge and skills does not only depend on the learning methods used during the onboarding. If a concept is very likely to be forgotten – for instance, because it is not used or applied on a daily basis – it is essential to support the salesperson in the reinforcement of this concept. For this, when you have a large number of salespersons to upskill, the use of digital is also relevant. Spaced repetition systems can be used to push automated reminders on the key concepts learnt in training: to reinforce knowledge, the learner receives questions; to reinforce skills, the learner receives challenges to achieve.

3. The digital tool must adapt to the salesperson’s everyday life

This type of tool can be used as a “digital coach” to maintain the skills acquired by the salesperson, by following very short learning content (microlearning) to learn at times that are not necessarily dedicated to learning. This way, the salesperson can even develop new knowledge (related to a new product launched by the company, for instance) and skills to continuously improve his/her performance.

Microlearning is not the only condition for an efficient upskilling process. The device used for learning also has a role to play to adapt to the salesperson’s everyday life. For a bank advisor, any learning material (other than face-to-face training) can be played on his/her computer. On the contrary, a salesperson in a store is more likely to follow learning materials on his/her mobile phone.

4. The key role of the manager

In addition to that, the manager needs to be the one promoting the tools and learning materials to his/her employees and monitoring the upskilling process. Therefore, managers must have access to insightful reporting to identify the existing and missing skills within their team and, if needed, implement adapted corrective actions.

In some cases, the reporting will not only be used to monitor the upskilling process: by correlating the salespersons’ skills level, the learning modules they have followed and the revenue they have generated, it is possible to measure the return on investment of learning!